Any writer will tell you the secret to writing is writing. Any other writer will say the secret to writing is rewriting. And another writer might talk to you about discipline. I don't know. There are no magic bullets. But the reason people give these suggestions or at least one reason is often writers complain about writer's block. If they're totally honest, they can find the time to write, they can carve out at least an hour of their day if not more to really give it a shot, but if they have nothing to say, they have nothing to say. It's boring. It's lonely. And said writer can't help but feel like a fraud.
Currently I'm having a bit of a dearth. I don't have an excuse. I have that daily precious time to do my work and for me, it is work. It not only brings me joy, it can and has generated income. So... do I hate joy and income? Am I out of ideas? Am I a real writer? If I was wouldn't I be writing and prolific and blowing myself and others away with my bright, unusual and pithy ideas?
Well, here's the good news, I'm too old to totally give a shit. Like on many levels I don't even ask myself those questions any longer. I no longer traipse down the rabbit hole towards Existentialism Plaza. I've been writing long enough to know there are downs, dearths, and some real choice moments when nothing is emerging. But do not misunderstand. Not giving a shit doesn't then become not doing anything. Nope. There is a solution.
DOCTOR'S ORDERS FOR WRITER'S BLOCK
1) Show up for it. Even if all you do is write in your diary, show up for your writing. Daily. At least an hour.
2) Keep your notebook by your side. Write down your random thoughts. All day. All night. Have your notebook at arm's reach.
3) READ. Any novelist knows to read and to read a lot. Novelist, TV writer, playwright - no matter, you are a writer and writers read. Reading outside the genre you write is the way I usually go. And I try to mix it up: non-fiction, articles, short stories, scripts -- all to get stimulated. I LOVE good writing. I'm inspired by it. I emulate it. Currently I'm reading Edna O'Brien and I couldn't be happier. I have a bunch of books on the docket and I even listen to good writing. On a recent drive my husband played me a beautiful rendition of a Sylvia Townsend Warner story on the New Yorker podcast. Heaven.
4) Watch TV and film -- shows and movies you wouldn't gravitate towards are ideal. I currently watched "Beguiled." Had little to no interest in it and knew close to nothing about it. Those for me are the best because then when they're good you're rather blindsided by genius. "Beguiled" was like watching moving paintings over and over. And under the beauty was some serious plot shit I never would have thought of. That was a nice kick for my brain.
5) Live outside your box. Go to a museum, take a night and do something you wouldn't typically do, take an exercise class that you're afraid of, snorkel - anything that you haven't done before. On New Year's Day we signed up for a Sun Salutation class at our yoga studio. 54 Sun Salutes. I'm really out of shape. But it's bound to get something going. Or I might just throw up. The point is...
It's about stimulation. It's about shaking it up. You are a full person with a million idea germs but some times those germs get stuck between routine and expectation. They're stuck inside your vessels and your capillaries, between your frontal lobe and your waistband. They're just plain stuck. And if you keep doing more of the same, there your idea germs will stay stuck, bored out of their freakin minds. And if you do nothing to save them, then they'll eventually wither away. But if you live a little, they start to move, collide, and finally emerge. They get unstuck, you get unblocked and boom, your germs mate with each other and ideas are born. And then you can't help but write it down. You go from stuck to fingers dancing on the page. You're back, baby!
And what a great way to start off the new year! You know what I mean? With a brand new idea. That's a nice way to say fuck you to an existential crisis, isn't it now?
That's all I got.
Happy New Year!!!
Sometimes we fall into convention. An exercise I'm doing in my own writing is keeping track of typical conventions per genre, ie.: Horror - someone always goes into the basement. It's usually someone who deserves it and on some level I'm like "yay!". But so like here we are, it's Christmas/Chanukah/Fill-In-the-Blank-Holiday-So-As-Not-To-Offend-Anyone and say in July you're writing about this time of year. Most likely you'll write about what you think are the memories of what this time of year yields (trees, ornaments, tree shopping, gift wrapping, snipping at a loved one...) but in the midst of it, there are unique, atypical or less referenced memories, moments, sights, sounds, feels.. that occur. In that handy notebook you bought at the candy store for writers (Staples) jot down little specificities. Because, and perhaps you've noticed this too, it's beyond refreshing when you go to a movie or a read a book or a pilot and have that feeling of: "That is so true."
The words "That is so true!" only emerge when something stands out that you've never seen before or has never been referenced before. The writer has expressed an experience that is rarely if ever on the page or screen. My guess is while it's happening within the story, it really, in some way, happened in real life. It's true. It's real. It's unique.
Think about what makes certain movies more timeless than others: "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Story." There are layers to the magic that culminates into the success of these stories but the unique qualities (Ju-Ju's petals, dancing in the gym with the moveable floor, the knob that comes off the staircase rail, the tongue on the pole, the kid who hides under the sink because, "Daddy's gonna kill Ralphie," putting the kid in the snowsuit) are rooted. The details feel true. They're real.
So I urge you, while you suffer and experience joy this holiday season, take notes. You won't regret it. And if they're in your computer, have a key word to indicate what it's for, (ie.: Christmas). You'll never regret having helped out your future writer self who wants her/his writing to stand out and have a little bit of truth.
Merry Everything and Happy New Year!
Just read in Vanity Fair how Karl Ove pretty much detests everything about himself. I've read all of the My Struggles and I can tell you, that's pretty much the truth. But something that I found so interesting too about the article was if he were to come back as anything, he would come back a window. I mean does he say this shit on purpose? It's so annoying how spot on he is sometimes. Obviously that's what we as writers are. We see things. We observe. We're either inside looking out, or outside looking in. And whether we're talking about the world at large, society, nature or our minds, we are observers. To me, that takes a little pressure off. I'm just writing down what I see or how I see things after they've gone through the funnel of my mind and into my pen or my fingers on the board.
A little tip, and I wish I could remember who I learned this from, but when you watch things, hear things, see things, listen... observe from the vantage point of your characters. How is your character experiencing Alabama? The new Star Wars movie? The hotel room you're staying in? The view from your window?
That's all I got. Ciao for now!
...your characters are a great way to cure loneliness. I was listening to a review about the new novel "Mr. Dickens and his Carol" and it's said Dickens would hole up in his room and BE all the characters. He'd talk in their voices as he wrote. So out loud he would say their lines, dialogue, whatever you wish to call it. People would fight, talk back to one another, profess desires, cry... they would be real.
That's about the only way I can legitimately say I have something in common with Charles Dickens. I've always said my dialogue out loud while I write. And I notice if what people say whether in a novel, in a play or on a screen sounds false. I wonder if the writer is really in touch with his or her characters. I feel like the writer is using the characters but those characters are two dimensional mouth pieces for his or her ego and it drives me nuts. "People don't talk that way!" is what I tend to think and it takes me out of the story.
Your style may not incorporate natural dialogue and that's fine. There's room for a lot of voices in the world. But your character's voices should be real to you. If they're real to you that will come across in what you create. And it makes writing a hell of a lot less boring.
Say it out loud. It's kind of fun. Personally I think that's why I love my catty characters. I get to be a dick without being a dick in the real world. It's very satisfying.
Hope this helps and good luck with your writing!
Writer, Writing Coach, Writer Supporter.